Welcome to this month's installment of Dear Urbaneer, where our readers put our real estate knowledge to task with their questions. This month, a reader asks for Steve's guidance based on his journey re-inventing a 1960s super-solid utilitarian duplex - summarized in his Tales From Tennis Crescent posts - located on Tennis Crescent in Toronto's Riverdale neighbourhood.
I came across your blog after googling Toronto's Committee of Adjustment process. I have also undertaken the journey and am now at a stage whereby I've gotten 'C of A' approval but need construction permit drawings and a building contractor. The scope of my work mainly involves a 3rd floor addition to a semi detached house. I live nearby on The Danforth.
Do you have any tips you can steer me on about permit drawings and construction?
Thanks and I really enjoy your blog.
Signed, Addition Adventures
Congrats on your approvals for your property! I welcome offering you my insights and guidance.
First, to answer your questions about my own efforts to extend and expand my semi-detached house, I've enlisted Sustainable.TO Architects and structural engineer Frank Infante of Engineering Link Incorporated to prepare my construction and permit drawings. These costs are considerable, at around $45,000 to date, though this does include design services (including material and mechanical selections). Other recent added costs have included soil testing on my property to ensure the composition is conducive to supporting helical piles, and excavating 2 sections of the basement footings to ensure the foundation will support a third floor (about $6000). The rule of thumb in development is that soft costs (C of A, consultants, drawings, services) average about 15 percent of your total construction costs.
I'm sure one could source a firm to prepare construction drawings for less but, unless you're in the building industry, be forewarned there's a ton of details unique to each property you'll want a credible firm(s) to counsel you. It also depends on whether you're approaching your shelter addition strictly as a means of function and utility - including using standard materials from big box stores - or whether a commitment to 'architecture and design' also plays a critical role in your objective, which - ultimately - is significantly more custom and expensive. For example, the set backs from the lot line influence where you can, and can't, add windows to a dwelling. At my residence, I have a number of existing windows (which predate the current building code) located on the side of my house just a few feet from my neighbour to the east. I'm allowed to remove these existing windows and, using their total area, reconfigure them into a handful of new slender floor-to-ceiling windows, relocating them to spots better suited to the new space plan where I can capture 'view vignettes' and optimize the play of light. A lot of owners wouldn't consider these sorts of details but natural light - and floor-to-ceiling windows - are high priorities for me, so I'm investing significant capital in the design process to do it right.
Given my life is housing, I'll admit I'm consumed with the idea of successful design. This causes me to scurrilously rant about the design fails contractors, and their clients, make. For example, I've confessed Glass-Bowl Sinks Make Me Scream (the maintenance!), shared the financial risks of too much I See Ya, Ikea, as well as lamented over Stains On My Window - which
questions judges faux stained glass and prefabricated metal doors. In Staging Nightmare I reveal my hatred for ubiquitous "Tit Lights' and in We Flip Burgers, Not Houses I rail about recessed lighting overkill (which, in my opinion, should be used sparingly, and mostly to highlight Art).
I'm also concerned with scale, proportion and 'flow', visual cohesiveness, the connection between indoors and out, and how the sum of all these considerations create comfort. Despite my own expertise as a housing conceptualist, my design team (which also includes an interior designer, landscape architect, mechanical engineer, lighting and sound consultants) each help refine, guide and source the vision I have for my 'Home'. You see, even though I'm embracing a mid-century modernist tone to complement the vintage of my property, I will spend more time processing how I'd like the space will 'feel', than over how it will ultimately 'look'. After all, we are governed by the textures, hues, smells and sounds of our domestic world.
There's no question my ego drives me to create 'Wow' statement architecture, (not too long ago I shared how I'm Obsessed With An Exterior Metal Facade!), but my priority is to honour my primordial urge to retreat, collect and define who I am by the objects and space in which I am surrounded. In other words, I'm investing in creating a personal sanctuary which is both invigorating and restorative first and foremost, though I'll be the first to admit I also want it to look good. These are the many facets of housing, as a symbol of self.
When it comes to housing and home, I don't think it's possible to over think one's options (it's how I daydream); I encourage investing time into becoming informed, as well as embracing the pragmatic. For example, sustainability is a critical part of my design program which, given my limited knowledge, required choosing a firm who has both the expertise and experience. (If you're curious to read more about sustainability, here's my own recent learning curve On Building Sustainable Housing In Canada and How Would Your Home Compare To A Sustainable Property?.)
To give you some context, below is a snap of my place (on the right) - ready for renovation - once the permit is issued and my due diligence complete. The photo was taken from a top floor apartment in the charming vintage rental complex across the street - which fortuitously came available for rent a few weeks after I made the enquiry. Renting it to accommodate Urbaneer for now - and occupy during the renovation - I plan on attaching a time lapse camera to the apartment window sill to record the project from start to finish.
One benefit of engaging Sustainable.TO were their contractor recommendations. Part of their architect fees included three quotes from contractors they've used in the past, all whom have excellent reputations. For about $500 each they submitted estimates to complete, which resulted in a range of values that were within a 100k spread of each other. Having multiple quotes was helpful, as it reinforced how different firms approach a renovation. Some cost by category (windows, roof, plumbing, wiring, etc) with dollar allowances for each section or building component, others give you one final price and assure you there won't be any additional charges. Along with that, they summarize their working style, size of crews, time line and how receptive they are to an owner's involvement (and the resulting likelihood said client making changes) when the reno is underway. It taught me how critical it is to meet with several firms to see which one aligns with your own desire for engagement. Although I've elected to use a contractor whom I've had a relationship with for over two decades, there's merit in meeting with several firms to know who might fit best.
As an aside, and yet of critical importance, were the delays I recently encountered when the Building Permit was Refused by the City the second time. I discovered my urban planner didn't include the sentence 'Addition will be constructed on the zero lot line' in the Preliminary Zoning Review or C of A application. As a result the city either required I build my second floor extension and third floor addition with an 18" setback off the lot line or I secure a Party Wall Agreement from my attached neighbour.
The back story is my attached neighbours opposed my C of A application. The adult daughter of the owners was extremely upset about the impact of a year long construction program on her parents' quiet enjoyment. This protective daughter was so vehement towards me at the C of A hearing, I've stayed clear of her and her parents ever since, only nodding hello from a distance when we saw each other, though I made a point of shoveling their sidewalk of snow on occasion this past winter in an effort to make amends for the C of A approvals granted me.
Here are some of my more recent concept drawings, which are still being tweaked:
I became aware of my lack of a Party Wall Agreement the first time an application for a Building Permit was denied, which I wrote about in On My Obstacles Securing A City Of Toronto Building Permit. It was one of several items on the Refusal List but I didn't pay much heed, instead focusing on the soil testing required to support the new foundations and getting the concrete cut out of my basement in two locations for a structural engineering firm to document the footings could adequately support the third floor addition (which delayed construction last Autumn with Winter's imminent arrival). At that time I instructed my architects I would not be getting a Party Wall Agreement, and to design the second set of Permit Drawings accordingly.
When the revised construction drawings were submitted to the city for permit this Spring - and it was denied a second time - the city identified that without a Party Wall Agreement I would have to set the third floor addition off the lot line by a minimum 18". It was at this time we discovered my urban planner missed including the statement that the addition would be 'constructed on the zero lot line'. Had she inserted that sentence in the C of A application originally (now two years ago), all would be well but without it (even though all the drawings showed the extension and addition on the lot line) I either had to set back the addition 18", re-apply to the C of A to get that missing sentence inserted, or secure a Party Wall Agreement with my neighbour. This news was crushing, as one never anticipates these kinds of obstacles when hiring professionals, nor the added expense in time and money, which has been substantial.
While I initiated a second application to the C of A to build on the lot line, I sent a letter to my attached neighbours outlining my options to proceed - either build 18" off our shared lot line, reapply to the C of A, or secure a Party Wall Agreement from them. I offered to give them $2500 for their support.
To my surprise, the neighbour's son contacted me promptly and said they were willing to provide a Party Wall Agreement pending meeting the architects to satisfy their concerns. He was very friendly and agreeable. Apparently the daughter's vehemence wasn't a reflection of the family as a whole, but simply specific to her. After receiving the Party Wall Agreement and giving them the funds, they shared they'd be using the $2500 to build a new fence between our properties as the existing one is dilapidated. How's that for win-win? It was a good lesson for me. I should have been more open to engaging my neighbours sooner but, being sensitive and scorned, I assumed my immediate neighbours despised me. As it turns out, they weren't happy with the outcome but they weren't holding it against me. Lesson learned!
Last week I had a conversation with my structural engineer who suggested I offer to share in the cost in installing a new roof on my attached neighbours' portion when the third floor addition nears completion, which wasn't an expense I had considered. He said that the number one issue with third floor additions on semi's is the neighbour's often suffer for water damage. To best combat water damage, a new membrane should run down the Party Wall side of my new addition and across a sizable piece of the neighbouring roof to properly deflect water before the siding and flashing is installed on the new addition, and new asphalt shingles over their roof, otherwise it invites leaking. Although the cost to re-roof my neighbour's is about $7500, he said if a new roof isn't installed (which would come with the benefit of a 20 year warranty offering all parties long term peace of mind) the chances are pretty high there will be damages in the future which could be costly. He makes a good point.
Just as my Building Permit was being rejected that second time, this article by John Lorinc came out in the Globe and Mail called In Unaffordable Market, Toronto Homebuyers Opt To Expand Semis which offers some cautionary advice.
There's a lot to digest here but once you've processed let me know how I can guide you further. And take deep breaths too. Having just had my Building Permit application Refused for a third time (the fun never stops - stay tuned for an update!), be assured adding an addition and extension to one's home is a bit of a roller coaster.
Here's some of my past Tales From Tennis Crescent posts which may be helpful:
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Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
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